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Fin whales like Bergeronnes feature a number of unusual characteristics!

The second largest animal on the planet and one of the fastest swimmers in the ocean, these whales also show asymmetrical colouring, a very unique feature!

Prior to the discovery of its carcass, Bergeronnes was not known to researchers. This individual may have previously visited the St. Lawrence, but it had never been formally identified. Judging by its size – 16 m long – Bergeronnes was a 1- or 2-year-old juvenile.

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Back and dorsal fin of a fin whale. A small notch can be seen in the dorsal fin.


Back and dorsal fin of a fin whale. A zipper-like scar can be seen on the animal’s right flank.


Back and dorsal fin of a fin whale. The chevron can be seen on its right flank.


On September 17, 2008, a dead fin whale was found drifting off the coast Tadoussac. Is it merely happenstance that, one month earlier, there was a red tide in the St. Lawrence?

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A fin whale carcass floats on its back, its belly swollen.

Like all fin whales, Bergeronnes had asymmetrical colouring, which, in the animal kingdom, is quite unique! This species has a light side and a dark side...

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A fin whale lunges across the water surface. The lighter-coloured right side of its jaw is clearly visible. We also see the left side, which is darker.

Bergeronnes was in a good physical condition when his carcass was discovered, so at least we know he was getting enough to eat... Did he mostly feed on his own or did he ever team up with other fin whales?

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A group of four fin whales rise to the surface.

Capable of reaching top speeds of 40 km/h, fin whales are known as “greyhounds of the sea”.

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Video Transcript

A whale is well adapted to its aquatic environment. One might say it’s like a fish in water...

But be careful, whales are mammals, not fish!

With their smooth skin and hydrodynamic profile, whales like Bergeronnes glide easily through the water. For thrust, these animals use powerful movements of the tail, which are just as effective on the ascent as on the descent.

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Diagram of a fin whale in which its various fins are circled. Shown in the diagram are the caudal fin in the rear, the dorsal fin on the back, and one of the pectoral fins behind the head.

How fast do whales swim?

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Fin whale: 10-15 km/h, up to 40 km/h
Blue whale: 5-10 km/h, up to 35 km/h
Beluga: 3-6 km/h
Dolphins: 15 km/h, with sprints up to 27 km/h

How deep do whales dive?

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Fin whale: 100-200 m 
Harbour porpoise: 20-100 m
Humpback whale: 60-120 m
Sperm whale: 500-800 m, up to 2000 m
Free diver (human): 40 m

How do whales withstand the pressure associated with deep water?

Thanks to the cartilage that protects the upper part of their lungs and the absence of air cavities such as facial sinuses and outer ears.

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Diagram of a fin whale breathing at the surface. Inside its rib cage, its lungs swell. Part 2 of the diagram shows the fin whale descending to deeper waters. Water pressure compresses the lower part of its lungs, while cartilage maintains the shape of the upper part.

Can whales have diving accidents?

Generally speaking, whales know how to manage their ascents in order to avoid this issue. That said, such an incident could occur if the animal is stressed and comes up too quickly. In such a scenario, the whale could indeed suffer decompression sickness.

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The top of the head and the front of the back of a fin whale pierce the water surface as the animal prepares to take a breath. Its exhalation is visible and part of its body can be seen through the clear water.

When whales are swimming below the surface, they go largely unnoticed by vessel crews... Beware of collisions!

Whales are capable of hearing an approaching ship. But when they swim in a high-traffic boating or shipping area, they may end up growing acclimated to the noise and not paying as much attention.

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In the foreground, one can see the back of a surfacing fin whale. In the background, an ocean liner travels in the opposite direction.

For large vessels and their crews, a collision with a whale will go largely unnoticed. For the animal, however, ship strikes can cause injury or even death.

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Fin whale back viewed from the right. Below and slightly in front of the dorsal fin, one can see a large scar that resembles a zipper.

Atlantic fin whales such as Bergeronnes have “special concern” status. They are mainly threatened by issues related to maritime traffic, including ship strikes.

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Close-up of a container ship. Ahead and to the side of the boat, we see a fin whale surfacing to breathe. The visible portion of the fin whale is smaller than a single container.

What can be done to reduce collisions ?

Close-up look at the Gulf of St. Lawrence

Simply slowing down lowers the level of risk.

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A humpback whale shows its tail as it prepares to take a dive. Behind the animal, a container ship travels in the same direction.

Stay alert and adapt your boating to the presence of whales.

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What can be done to help reduce collisions?

Encouraging the purchase of local products and reducing consumption in general help curb maritime traffic since a large part of what we consume such as foodstuffs, clothing or electronic devices arrives by sea.

Drawing of a vendor with his produce

Now that you’ve heard Bergeronnes’s story, let’s go meet the other whales!

See the skeleton in 3D
Fact sheet
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